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City golf courses could be repurposed as land for affordable housing, parks

Last Updated Mar 5, 2020 at 3:35 pm EDT

With a review of Toronto’s publicly owned golf courses now one year overdue, there are suggestions the land could be converted into additional space for parks and affordable housing.

The same idea is currently being considered in Vancouver while looking at alternative uses for at least one city-owned course.

“It makes kind of obvious sense,” said Patrick Condon, an urban design professor at the University of British Columbia. “If you need land, and land cost is an issue, to start looking at municipal land as a solution to the problem.”

Reports put together by the City of Toronto have indicated the number of rounds played had decreased by 15.5 per cent between 2007 to 2016. While the courses make approximately $5 million annually, they lose money overall and nearly $10 million is needed for maintenance on top of operational costs.

More than 50 golf courses have closed in Canada since 2015, many as a result of participation in the sport being on the decline. The same is true for more than 200 courses in the United States in 2018, where municipalities and developers are actively looking for different land uses.

“Good design is in the details,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. “It’s clearly possible to convert some golf courses given the crying demand for close-in land to build housing.”

Toronto’s new HousingTO action plan, approved by city council in December, calls for 40,000 new affordable homes to be approved over the next ten years. Some of those would be built on existing, city-owned land, and others in partnership with private developers.

While advocates and academics suggest using the spaces for different purposes, at least one city councillor says it’s not something the city should consider.

“There’s no doubt that green space is a major asset,” James Pasternak, the chair of the city’s infrastructure and environment committee, explained. “Developing it is not in the cards right now. We have other real estate assets we can use for affordable housing.”

The City of Toronto currently contracts out the management of five public courses. The two-year term for operating Dentonia Park Golf Course, Don Valley Golf Course, Humber Valley Golf Course, Scarlett Woods Golf Course and the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course expired on November 30, 2019. The City has since taken the option for another one year term.

The third-party review and recommendations are now expected by the summer of 2020.